3. CASUALISATION AND PRECARITY
Our work, including our relationships with students and colleagues, thrives on stability. But jobs in Further and Higher Education are becoming less secure. Insecure employment further marginalises those who are already underrepresented, especially women and BME staff. Almost everyone in UCU agrees that this is a central problem, but they do not agree about how to tackle it. In Further Education, we are only just starting to take action on a local level. In Higher Education, the union has all but given up on the prospect of securing a national agreement on job security: we are told that employers will never come to the table to discuss anything other than pay. And yet recent pay ballots do casualised members a disservice by pretending that their interests, along with equality issues, will be given as much weight as the pay claim in national negotiations. Our casualised members cannot be blamed for doubting whether they really are a priority for the union.
Another way to proceed, which has led to significant victories, is to advance local claims in individual branches. As General Secretary, I will build on these isolated successes by appointing national ‘branch coordination’ officers for anti-casualisation, who will gather information from multiple branches in all sectors and use it to formulate a realistic, concrete framework to put to employers in national or local claims.
3.1 Towards national bargaining on job security
We need to recognise that job security is just as important as pay, and set our sights on a national bargaining framework that takes it into account. This is eminently achievable, and tertiary education unions in other countries can show us the way. We can start with specific actions that raise standards for casualised workers throughout the sector. One is to weight our pay claims more progressively in favour of the lowest paid staff, who are disproportionately likely to be on casual contracts. Another is to expand the remit of our ongoing USS campaign to include more casualised and lower-paid staff in the Scheme, by enrolling staff at lower grades, and introducing a tiered contributions system. The point is to disincentivise casualisation by closing the gap between the remuneration of casualised workers and those on permanent contracts.
3.2 Learning from our professional services members
There are other ways to strengthen our collective action over casualisation. The impact of casualisation on professional services staff is often overlooked: constant restructuring and redundancy programmes, grade drift, and deprofessionalisation hit professional services first, before they spread to teaching staff. Our students would be shocked if they learnt the full extent of the precarity faced not only by many of their teachers, but also by staff in their institutions’ course offices, counselling services, libraries, and IT support teams. This is partly because for most of our professional services colleagues, the risk of speaking out about their precarious circumstances, either to the students they support or the general public, is too great. And yet the influence and esteem which they enjoy with their students and colleagues can make their actions all the more effective. It will not be possible to take robust national action against casualisation without supporting our professional services members, and the forms of industrial action which they are best equipped to lead.